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I Will Follow You into the Dark; Private. Day 8
Topic Started: Apr 18 2011, 01:06 AM (5,602 Views)
MurderWeasel
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[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Jennifer Perez continued from And A Buck Short))

Jennifer was running out of breath and sweating more than usual as she and Melissa made their way up the mountain. That wasn't a good sign. It spoke very clearly to the atrophy of her physical condition. At the start of the game, she'd been able to run around for hours and hardly feel it. She'd always been in good shape, at least when it came to walking places. Now, she was having to stop for rests every few minutes.

She had a stitch in her side, on top of everything else. She was so fucking exhausted, yet she didn't really feel comfortable voicing any concerns or complaints. After all, she'd outlived the majority of her classmates. She still had all her limbs. Fuck, she hadn't even bled on the island, hadn't even scraped herself up to any notable degree. Did that put her in the minority?

Right now, she didn't fucking care. They were heading to the top of the mountain, or as close as they could get. From there, they'd have an even better view than they'd enjoyed at the groundskeeper's hut. They'd be able to keep track of the other students, and maybe get some more rest. They'd be able to see trouble coming and escape before it got particularly dangerous. The biggest concern Jennifer had was that someone else would already be there, with the same idea. As long as they weren't hostile, though, that would be fine. Maybe they could even keep each other safe. It would make it important to convince Nick to stay calm, if he showed up, but she hoped she could do it.

They were getting fairly close now. She was sure of it. Then, she happened to glance up and notice a crutch hanging in a nearby tree. The sight was so incongruous that she paused for a second, blinking at it. It took her a full twenty seconds to examine her surroundings more closely, to note the ledge up above, where it had presumably fallen from. The world was almost blurry. Jennifer realized she hadn't had anything to drink in a while.

She turned towards Melissa, gestured to the tree, and said, "Hey, um, China Woman. Do you think we could maybe, um, take a break from fighting evil for a quick rest? Your, um, sidekick could use a drink."

She tried to smile and keep the tone light. No need to show that she was having trouble. No need to be serious. Everything would be fine.
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It seemed Melissa was just as tired as Jennifer, maybe even more so. She didn't sound like she was having such a great time right now. She made some comment about mountains being Satan's horns. Jennifer thought about that for a second, bounced it around in her head. She'd never figured Melissa for the religious sort. Maybe it was just a figure of speech, but maybe Melissa actually believed in a higher power.

Jennifer wasn't very devout. Fuck, who was she kidding? She was, on her most spiritual days, an apathetic agnostic. Mostly, she just thought that this life was what you got. Anything else, you couldn't really count on, just hope for. She hoped pretty fucking hard that there was an afterlife, that she wouldn't just end here, wouldn't just not exist in a few days, but she didn't believe it at all. She'd be rotting away soon, bugs eating her skin and fungus growing in her guts.

That wasn't the right thing to think about. She took a drink of water. This was still some of the stuff from the creek. She was probably poisoning herself with nasty chemicals from the mine tailings.

In an effort to reign in these thoughts, she said to Melissa, "Yeah, mountains can be, um, kind of tough. Not as, um, not as nice as walking around town."

She sighed. Her walks had been her therapy, the special alone times that kept her sane and happy. Most of the good things in her life had come to her as a result of walking. Melissa. Maf. They were her real friends, not the cluster of younger students she spent so much time hanging around with. Sure, those kids were good for a chuckle every so often, but Jennifer could never have come to them with personal troubles. Still, she'd been something of a surrogate older sister for them. She wondered what they were thinking right now. Wondered if any of them were watching. In all likelihood, they were just as surprised at Jennifer's continued survival as she was.

She glanced around for a camera, and, finding one, gave it a little wave.

Hi, everyone at home. I'm still here, I guess.

Then she took another big sip of the water. Fuck, it was hot out. The liquid was even lukewarm.

"I, um, I think maybe we should, um, stay here for a bit," she said to Melissa. "That, um, if you don't mind, I mean."

That said, she ducked into the shade of the nearby tree and plopped down, sitting cross legged on the dusty ground. Before, she would never have gotten her skirt dirty like this. She'd have sat on her backpack or something. Now, she didn't care. The garment had seen far worse. It was something of a miracle that it had only a few minor tears below the knees.

After a few seconds, she said to the air, "This sucks."
V7:
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Melissa agreed with Jennifer's assessment of the situation. She talked about how she felt like she couldn't avoid rambling, how her stops had been stripped away. Jennifer could relate all too well. After all, hadn't that happened to her repeatedly now? It was what had caused her original falling out with Nick. It was what had happened on the beach. She'd learned all too much about herself in those moments. She'd learned that she could be a total fucking bitch for no good reason. She'd learned that she could hurt people on a whim.

She'd learned that she just couldn't kill.

She still wasn't quite sure how she felt about it all. She was disappointed by some of it, sure, but she didn't hate herself. It was strange. She'd somehow always assumed that she would hate her unrestrained self, loathe everything that she became when the restraints were off. She didn't. She was a bit ashamed of some of it, of her parting words to Marco and Alex, and she wished she hadn't done some things, but she really didn't hate herself.

Her thoughts were interrupted by another voice. A new arrival, but a familiar one. One she hadn't quite expected to run into so soon, even if he was the reason for their trip up the mountains.

Nick.

She shouldn't have wanted to see him. She should have been furious that he had killed again. She should have given him a piece of her mind. Instead, she smiled cautiously. She was glad to see him. Sure, she was hurt and disappointed and more than a little scared, for him and everyone else (though not for herself), but it was still just nice to see him again.

She'd untangle the knot of her feelings later. Melissa spoke first, greeting Nick. Jennifer followed, saying, "Hi, Nick. Are you, um, alright? Water?"

She held the bottle out towards him, hand shaking a little. Just from fatigue, though. That was it.
V7:
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It was all nice and casual. Polite chitchat about being on the wrong end of lethal weapons and such. Nothing new for Nick, nothing that difficult to imagine for Jennifer. He chose to gloss over the other boy he killed. She chose not to make any attempt to draw information out of him. She didn't like what he'd done, but, for all she knew, he could have been being completely upfront. It could have been pure self defense. More than that, he'd apparently talked his way out of another fight. If he was trying to avoid more fighting and death, could she really fault him?

Maybe she could. Maybe she should. It didn't matter. What was important was that they were together again. She could keep a better watch this time, make sure Nick didn't get into any other fights. If she had to, she could get between him and other people. After all, any vigilantes would have a hard time killing someone innocent, right? They wouldn't blow through her and Melissa just for revenge.

She didn't say anything just yet, though. She simply sat and waited. She was trying to figure out where to go with this, what to say. What to do.

Finally, she took a deep breath, feeling her lungs expand, enjoying the change in internal pressure, then released the air and let Melissa do the talking.

Melissa brought up the announcements. It was unavoidable. Jennifer wasn't going to shield Nick from the repercussions of his actions, but she wasn't going to force the issue, either. She just smiled a little, and said, "Um, yeah. We've been, um, alright. Actually, um, got a little bit of sleep last night. Pretty... um, pretty hungry, but that's probably how everyone, um, how everyone is now, right?"

She hadn't really meant to whine about being hungry. Of fucking course she was hungry. She was in the process of starving to death. All of them were, and they couldn't do a thing about it, except maybe eat the corpses, and she would never do that. Better to die, doubly so since she'd be dying anyways. Still, she was about ready to start eating pine needles again soon, just to feel a little less empty, never mind if they had any nutritional value. The last experiment with them hadn't killed her, so she'd probably be fine doing it again. That was a fairly benign solution.

That was for later. She forced her focus back to Nick and Melissa for the moment, ignoring her stomach, just enjoying being together with the people she cared about again.

Well, most of them.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Nick hadn't been hungry. That wasn't good. Jennifer wasn't all that versed in nutrition, but wasn't loss of appetite usually a bad sign? She was pretty sure the body eventually consumed itself, broke down its own muscles and organs just to keep the brain going. She didn't want to think about that happening to her friends, or herself, for that matter.

Bodies were just things, right? Was it so disturbing that things decayed?

Nick distracted her by talking about the announcements. He was also dealing with his hand. Had it been hurt when Jennifer had first met him? Was that the wound she'd helped him treat? She couldn't really recall. Nick had so many injuries it was hard for her to really keep them straight. It was amazing he could hold together as well as he was. It made Jennifer stop and consider her own physical condition a bit more. Atrophy aside, she was still fine. Still uninjured. She felt a little bit guilty about that. What made her special?

It was so fucking stupid.

Melissa kept moving the conversation along. She wanted to know the circumstances of Nick's latest killing. Jennifer didn't. She didn't want her perception of Nick to change. Until the secret was out, all potentials were equally valid. As soon as Nick spoke, though, he would be condemned or vindicated. It was like that experiment she'd heard about in science class, the one with the cat. It had some German name she couldn't remember right now. Didn't matter. Nick was probably about to tell them.

Would she stick with him if it had been murder?

Probably. She felt dirty just thinking it, but she doubted she would leave him now unless he murdered someone in cold blood right in front of her. She was so fucking dependent, so fucking scared of being by herself. Nick and Melissa were the only two people she hadn't alienated in some way during her time on the island. They were her support network. They kept her sane.

"Um, but, um, but only if you want to talk," she said, rather lamely. "If it's, um, painful, we can wait a bit."

She felt like she was betraying Melissa here. Fuck. Why couldn't it just be easy? Why couldn't Nick have kept things under control?

Why couldn't it all just get better?
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Jennifer felt pretty fucking embarrassed as Nick ignored her proffered respite and instead just went straight to the explanation. As it turned out, it had been self defense. Maybe it was Nick's fault in some strange way, since he'd most likely been attacked by someone seeking revenge or to protect a friend. Nick did have a reputation, after all. His very presence could appear a threat, especially without Jennifer and Melissa there to mediate and help defuse any situations.

That wasn't important, though. It was close enough to self defense for Jennifer to accept it. Not like it. Not respect it. She could live with it, though, and it seemed Melissa could too. The group was whole again, the tension smoothed over. Nick was already moving on, already focused on something else. He was doing something in his bag, something more complicated than just re-wrapping his arm. Jennifer wasn't concerned. If Nick wanted to kill them, there really wasn't anything she could do to stop him. If he'd wanted that, though, he'd have already done it. He knew their armament, or lack thereof, since the closest they had to a weapon was still Jennifer's icepick. He'd noticed them before they saw him. He'd had plenty of opportunity, but he'd called attention to himself.

Besides, Jennifer just couldn't believe Nick would intentionally hurt her. That meant he wouldn't hurt Melissa, either, not with how much the other girl meant to Jennifer.

He finished whatever it was and called them over. Melissa got up and walked to him. Jennifer moved to follow suit, letting her packs fall to the ground first. She was stiff, so she didn't hurry too much. Even with Nick's encouragement, she was still a few seconds and steps behind Melissa.

Something about Nick's words struck her as odd. She'd always been a little bit off put by people speaking about themselves in the third person.

Her slightly delayed arrival was fine. This wasn't a race. Nick was going to show them something. Maybe some trick to cheer them up. That would fit with the odd speech pattern from before. He could just be affecting the mannerisms of a stage magician or something.

"Um, yeah," Jennifer said, trying to catch a glimpse of what he had. "What have you, um, got there?"

Fuck. Her feet had fallen asleep while she had been sitting, and now her legs had that awful pins and needles feeling. She really hoped Nick had something to take her mind off of that.
V7:
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Nick gave a quick explanation of the purpose of his device, then asked if they were in, if they wanted to be involved in his plan. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Freedom. the possibility of escape, of a future beyond this island. They just had to trust him. Time was of the essence. They had seconds to respond.

Looking back, Jennifer could never determine which answer she wished she had been about to give.

Part of her wanted to believe she had enough common sense to stop things in their tracks. It'd have been a simple matter to laugh like it was a joke. After all, it was clear that Nick wasn't sure it was going to work. Had he been, he would have tested it on himself, or maybe on Jennifer. Laughter would have been cruel, hurtful. It would have been another blow against a boy she cared about. It would have been entirely out of character for her, but what wasn't these days?

Part of her wanted to believe that she'd been about to step forward and volunteer herself. Then, perhaps, fate could have rolled along as it was meant to, and Jennifer could have died before Melissa. She could have been spared the pain of watching her—well, no use dancing around the issue, Melissa was by this point fairly well her best friend, after all they had been through together—best friend die in front of her. Maybe Melissa could have kept going. Could have survived. Could have gone home.

The reality, though, the one Jennifer would never quite be able to fully believe, was that she just wasn't quick enough on the uptake to have any action in mind. Everything was too sudden, too shocking. She didn't do anything. She just stood and watched as Nick waved his device over Melissa's collar.

Nothing happened.

He did it again.

Nothing happened.

Jennifer let out her breath.

It was all going to be fine.

She shifted her foot.

Nick did it a third time.

Things were different.

Jennifer watched Melissa die.

There was no comprehension.

No recognition.

No emotion.

Nothing.

For about two seconds.

Then she screamed.

Then she started backwards.

Then she tipped over.

Her legs were still asleep.

Then she landed on the ground.

A patch of grass stopped it from being too bad.

She didn't scrape her hands.

Then she realized that her icepick wasn't in her skirt.

It was still in her bag.

Against the tree.

Behind Nick.

Too far.

So she just started crying again.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Tears.

Pain.

Emotional.

Physical.

Had she bruised something?

Her legs still weren't working right.

Fuck.

Fuck this all.

Melissa was dead.

Lying on the ground.

Blood.

You could have saved her.

You should have saved her.

Some superhero.

Deep breaths.

Choke back the tears.

A crash.

Turn.

Look.

Maf.

Surprise.

Feelings.

Not quite what she'd expected.

He had a gun.

He was angry.

Nick too.

This was supposed to be happy.

Simple.

Good.

They all meet.

Jennifer.

Maf.

Nick.

Melissa.

It's tense.

She calms them down.

Happy ending.

Fat chance now.

She was afraid.

More than that, though:

Angry.

This was all wrong.

Too late to stop the fight.

Too late to do anything.

Always too late.

Nick had moved.

Charged.

The two last people she cared about were going to kill each other.

It didn't matter who won.

No one could win.

One sure thing:

Jennifer would lose.

Stop this.

She started crawling towards her bag.

Stop this.

Stop this now.
V7:
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Movement.

Conflict.

Flashes.

Fighting.

She hated it.

Funny.

The icepick had found its way into her hands.

Stand up.

Her legs felt better.

Turn.

Look.

Maf went down.

Fear?

Nick too.

Definitely fear.

It was all going wrong.

Again.

Still.

Always.

She hated it.

They were back up.

Fighting.

The two remaining people she cared about.

Fighting.

Trying to kill each other.

Always have to play peace keeper, eh?

Fuck it.

No.

Deal with this.

Stop it.

A quick glance:

Melissa.

Still dead.

No waking up from this.

And still:

Fighting.

Jennifer was furious.

She was terrified.

She was sad.

Not crying anymore, though.

One step towards the conflict.

Two.

Three.

Pulse increasing.

Breathing speeding up.

Like at the beach.

No.

She'd do it.

She'd stop it.

She'd fucked up one time too many.

Glance at Melissa.

One time too many?

Many too many.

She was supposed to be good at this.

Her one fucking skill.

Suddenly applicable.

All her normal words were gone.

Her speeches.

Her sympathy.

Her persuasiveness.

All that was left:

A plea.

"Just stop."

Too quiet.

Too weak.

Too useless.

She raised her voice.

Spoke loudly.

Clearly.

"Stop."
V7:
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They didn't stop.

For a second, she misunderstood.

Thought they hadn't heard her.

Thought she hadn't spoken loud enough.

Thought she hadn't given it her best shot.

Thought there was still something she could do.

Thought she just had to raise her voice.

Thought she just had to cross her fingers.

Thought it could still be okay.

Maf turned.

Finally noticed her.

Nick didn't.

But nothing changed.

Nothing shifted.

No one threw down their weapons.

No one called for a truce.

No one asked for understanding.

No one apologized.

No one explained.

There was no miracle.

Just more fighting.

More aggression.

More anger.

More blood.

She hoped it wasn't for her sake.

No one dead.

Yet.

Only a matter of time.

No other way for this to end.

She couldn't stop it.

She was helpless.

She realized that now. She'd done her best. She'd been sure it would change things. Sure it would fix them and make the world go back to normal. Sure that Nick and Maf would calm down and talk it out. Sure that it would somehow make Melissa's death have some meaning. It didn't. Nothing changed. Jennifer's best friend had died in front of her eyes, and now the only two people she still cared about were killing each other in front of her. This was what Survival of the Fittest was all about, wasn't it? This was the truth of the show, of the experience. It wasn't about dying. Not entirely, at least. It was about taking everything away from the people who didn't die. It was about making you watch your entire world fall apart. It was about burying you under the reality of your thoughts and fears. It was about giving you just enough hope to hang yourself with. It was about teaching you that dreams didn't come true. It was about leaving you a broken, sobbing wreck. The death was nothing but the end. Perhaps, for some, it was even merciful. Maybe some people had faith in a better world afterwards. Maybe Melissa had. Jennifer, though, knew there was nothing. There was here. There was now. There was Nick. There was Maf. There was blood and stabbing. There was inevitable death. There was heartbreak. There was knowledge. Intrinsic knowledge. Horrible knowledge. The knowledge that this was the end. Maybe not the end of her life. Probably not. Either potential victor would let her live. Either would take her along with him. Either would care about her. Either would try to keep her safe. Either would watch as she was eventually shot in front of him, or would die in her arms. Here, now, this wasn't the end of her existence. The end of something, though. Happiness? Not quite the right fit. That had been over a week ago. Any signs otherwise had been the emotion's death throes. Maybe togetherness. Yes. That was it. There would be no more togetherness. She would be with one of them, but they wouldn't be together. She would be alone with someone else. That was how most people were on the island, she realized. Just different people, lost and alone. She had never been alone before. She had been without people, but she had known that there were others out there she cared about. She had had goals. Hopes. Friends to look for. Friends not to look for. Friends. She still had friends. She would still be alone. She didn't quite know why, but it was the truth. There was nothing in her future now. Nothing but loneliness. Nothing but more of the same. Nothing but tagging along with whoever came out on top. Nothing but being a hollow shell trying to play therapist to a damaged husk. Nothing but regret. Nothing but reminiscence. Nothing but wishing for the past. Nothing but fantasizing about better days. It didn't matter who won this game. It didn't matter who won this fight. There was no winning. Jennifer didn't think she could look either in the face, though she knew she would travel with the survivor for the rest of her life. She wanted to die. She wanted to hide. She wanted to be at home. She wanted Melissa. There was just too much. Too much. It was crushing her.

This all took two seconds to realize.

A second later, as blood sprayed from Nick's face, as he started to yell, Jennifer found her escape hatch. It wasn't perfect. It wasn't good. Probably wasn't healthy. She would hurt Nick, hurt Maf, hurt herself. She had to take it, though. It was what she'd always done when the conflict got too bad, when she couldn't calm things down, when she was completely helpless and alone and out of options.

She took off, away from the fight, away from the pain, away from Melissa's body. Somehow, she maintained the presence of mind to grab one of her packs on the way.

It was the one she'd packed for the camping trip. The one containing the clothes she would never wear again. The one that didn't have any water, or food, or medical supplies, or map, or compass, or flashlight.

It was the important pack. The one she needed.

And she left the conflict behind.

((Jennifer Perez continued in Better Days))
V7:
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